JuJu Smith-Schuster has drawn plenty of criticism over the years for his playful on-field antics, but with the veteran wide receiver sidelined for the Steelers‘ Thursday night clash with the Vikings, another Pittsburgh pass-catcher filled the void. Second-year target Chase Claypool, fresh off some ribbing from coach Mike Tomlin for requesting more music at Steelers practice, got benched early in Week 14’s loss to Minnesota for thrusting a pointed finger into the facemask of Vikings corner Bashaud Breeland. Then, in the final minute of action, with the Steelers threatening to erase a 29-point deficit, Claypool struck again, this time lackadaisically celebrating a first-down catch with the clock running and Pittsburgh out of timeouts.
The Steelers lost Thursday’s Minneapolis showdown for a number of reasons. Their defense was nowhere to be found early on, and T.J. Watt left early with a groin injury. Diontae Johnson couldn’t get along with his hands. Ben Roethlisberger barely had any time to throw on key downs before halftime. But Claypool had a hand in the defeat, even as he led the team with eight catches for 93 yards. Had the Notre Dame product simply gotten up and lined up after his critical fourth-down catch to move the chains with about 40 seconds left in the fourth quarter, rather than kneeling and pointing to bask in his first down, the Steelers may very well have had time to run an extra play on their final series, which ended with Roethlisberger’s end-zone pass to Pat Freiermuth with two seconds left.
Following the game, Claypool broke down the controversial play: “I got tackled near the hash. Did my little first down point. Went to hand the ball to the ref. He just got there. … The ball got knocked out of my hands. That’s what cost us time. But I definitely do have to be better.”
Replay of Claypool’s celebration suggests the wideout’s patient posing took at least five seconds off the clock. Again, is he solely responsible for Pittsburgh’s loss? No way. But you can see on the replay just why his showboating was costly: even his own teammates, including offensive linemen, rushed up to grab him and drag him back to the line so as to make up for lost time and allow Roethlisberger to spike the ball and, you know, focus on winning the game.
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